DIY smear tests may help combat falling cervical cancer screening rates

This article was taken from:

By Press Association

NHS England pilot scheme of ‘self-sample’ kits will allow women to test for HPV at home

Women will be able to conduct tests for HPV at home as part of a pilot scheme to combat the low up-take of cervical cancer screenings in England.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said self-testing could help reverse the decline by allowing women to use the kits in the comfort of their own home.

“We know from our research that there is a huge appetite for self-testing and want to see it introduced to the NHS screening programme as soon as possible,” he said.

“Countries such as Australia and Denmark, which are already offering self-testing, are seeing fantastic results in terms of more women being screened and more cancers being prevented or diagnosed at an early stage.

“For those who find screening difficult for a wide range of psychological and physical reasons, it could be a game-changer.”

At present, women can buy HPV kits online but they are not routinely available on the NHS. On Wednesday, health bosses said they would pilot “self-sample” tests through the post in some parts of England.

Speaking to the Public Accounts Committee, Prof Mike Richards, a former director of National Cancer in the Department of Health, said self-testing has “great promise”.

Screening rates for cervical cancer have been falling and the latest data shows that, as of the end of March last year, the percentage of eligible women screened adequately was just 71.4%. Among younger women, screening rates are even worse, with just 61.1% of those aged 25 to 29 screened, and 68.8% of those aged 30 to 34.

HPV is an extremely common virus which is often spread through sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas. If a woman is positive for HPV, her doctor can then arrange further tests.

Research from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust suggests that more than a third of young women put off going for smear tests because of embarrassment. Other factors include a low perception of risk, fear, leading a busy lifestyle and forgetting appointments.

Music said mothers have a role to play in raising awareness by talking to their daughters about screening. “It’s important to normalise screening and reduce stigma and misconceptions around it.

“Universities, schools, workplaces and businesses can all play a part in raising awareness of the test too.”

All women aged 25 to 64 are offered cervical screening to check for abnormal cells in the cervix, while girls aged 12 to 13 are offered vaccination in school. However, one in three girls in some parts of the UK did not have full vaccination against HPV in 2017-18.

Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England said: “Anything that can be done that helps support more women get safely screened, we welcome. This is why we have asked the UK National Screening Committee to consider the merits of HPV home self-testing kits for women.” She also suggested women using pharmacy-bought kits should discuss the results with their GP.

More than 3,000 women in the UK are newly-diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the UK and the disease kills over 850 women annually.

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